Ken Burns Classroom

Fallout after the Diem Coup

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 9-12

Run Time: 1 class period

Lesson Overview

Students will view selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine the situation after the coup of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Students will assess the South Vietnamese government’s ability to defend itself against the insurgency of North Vietnam after the coup.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Assess the readiness of the South Vietnamese government to defend itself.
  • Examine the effects of the Diem coup on the morale of the Viet Cong.
  • Examine the optimism the US government had for the new South Vietnamese leader.
  • Evaluate whether the Diem coup was a benefit or a loss to South Vietnam.

Activity Procedure

  1. Distribute the handout to all students and prepare to view the video segment “A Crumbling and Unstable Government.” 
  2. Before you begin, review the summarizing points in the handout with students. Have them take notes in the second section of the handout while viewing the video clip. 
  3. After students watch the video segment and take notes, students should meet in small groups to complete the third section of the handout. Have them use the summarizing points and their film notes to formulate questions in the fourth section. 
  4. When students are ready, bring them back to a whole class discussion. Have students ask their questions and the class respond in a general discussion. 
  5. At the end of the discussion, cover the following points:
    • What in the video clip was most memorable to you?
    • Characterize the state of readiness of the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese government to defend itself against North Vietnam.
    • Discuss whether you feel the coup of President Diem was a benefit or a loss to South Vietnam. Would the country be better off if he had stayed in power? Explain.

National Standards for History

10.1C.6 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate the reformulation of foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.2C.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the Vietnam policy of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations and the shifts of public opinion about the war. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.2C.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the composition of the American forces recruited to fight the war. [Interrogate historical data]

9.2C.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate how Vietnamese and Americans experienced the war and how the war continued to affect postwar politics and culture. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

9.2C.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the provisions of the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 and evaluate the role of the Nixon administration. [Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations]

9.2C.5 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the constitutional issues involved in the war and explore the legacy of the Vietnam war. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]

National Standards for Civics and Government

IV.B.1.2 ( Grades: 9-12 ): explain how and why the United States assumed the role of world leader after World War II and what its leadership role is in the world today

IV.B.2.4 ( Grades: 9-12 ): describe the various means used to attain the ends of United States foreign policy, such as diplomacy; economic, military and humanitarian aid; treaties; sanctions; military intervention; covert action

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: Fallout after the Diem Coup Graphic Organizer

Directions: The top section lists the summarizing points of the video clip. Take notes on these points in the middle section. Then, in the third section, develop two questions you’re curious about and prepare to discuss them with the class.

Summarizing Points
  • Effects of the Diem coup on Viet Cong morale
  • Observations from the Viet Cong propaganda film
  • Problems in the South Vietnamese government
  • Defense Secretary Robert McNamara endorsing General Nguyen Khanh (Win Kaing) as leader of South Vietnam
  • President Johnson’s attitude toward South Vietnam
Notes from Video Clip
As you view the clips covering the points above, take notes on the following:

  • The impact of the Diem coup on the Viet Cong’s morale
  • Problems in the South Vietnamese government
  • Your reaction to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara endorsing General Nguyen Khanh (Win Kaing) as leader of South Vietnam
  • President Johnson’s attitude toward South Vietnam
Questions You Will Ask for Discussion
 

 

 

 

 

Additional Notes during Discussion